Pitchers, catchers ready and waiting to report
With many players already present, sleepy Surprise set to awaken with start of camp
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- There are two hawks that have a nest atop one of the light towers at Surprise Stadium. Their neighbors are a couple of owls living in the rafters of the roof that shades the stands behind home plate.
The desert aviary that is the Surprise Recreation Campus also includes sparrows, mourning doves and an obnoxious black bird that seems to have an unusual affinity for leaving its mark on red cars. With the White Tank Mountains glimmering to the West in the morning sun and groundskeeper Joey Brazil's fields trimmed in green despite the lack of rain, the Rangers' Spring Training facility was a veritable bastion of pastoral tranquility on a warm Saturday morning.
The big excitement involved pitcher Yu Darvish riding around on his bicycle and avoiding the sparse Japanese media contingent by slipping out the back gate of the complex. The Japanese had to settle for a shot of reliever Neal Cotts racing his bike down the main pathway and through the players' parking lot.
That's probably not going to make the evening news in Tokyo. But once Darvish made his getaway, the Japanese media, having stood vigil for over two hours to get a photo-op, packed their stuff and headed to nearby Peoria to see Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.
The Surprise solitude is about to change. If the birds of prey need tranquility, they will have to head off to the White Tanks. Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Sunday, and most of them are already here. Some have been here for more than a week.
"I think we're all ready for this," pitcher Alexi Ogando said.
That includes infielder Jurickson Profar, who is here to win a job as the Rangers' second baseman. He is supposedly dealing with tendinitis in his right shoulder and unable to throw for at least a week. But Profar, who is here even though position players don't report until Wednesday, said that is not a problem.
"I'm good … I promise," Profar said. "They're just trying to make sure."
Weather won't be a problem. The high Saturday was 87, and it is expected to stay warm and sunny for the next 10 days while the rest of the country deals with the latest blizzard. The Valley of the Sun has seen very little rain the past few months, but there has been enough snow and rain in the mountains to the north to keep the fields in prime condition.
Some of the pitchers are already throwing bullpen sessions. Darvish threw 22 pitches Friday in a session that was closed to the media. But there are only a half-dozen media from Japan here for Darvish, compared with the 100 or who watched Masahiro Tanaka throw Saturday in Yankees camp.
Four pitchers on the roster will not be throwing with others for the first official workout Monday.
Joseph Ortiz is one of those four, but he is here, getting around on a scooter with a cast on his left ankle. He was hit by a motorcycle in Venezuela last month and will be sidelined until at least May. Derek Holland, recovering from left knee surgery, is the only pitcher not expected to be here Sunday. He will be in Texas for about a week -- until he gets off crutches.
The other two pitchers who are not expected to be at full strength for the first workout are Daniel Bard, who is six weeks removed from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, and Ben Rowen, who is dealing with biceps tendinitis. Everybody else is expected to be ready to go.
That includes Roman Mendez, who was ranked the organization's No. 13 prospect in last year's listing by MLB.com. Mendez, who was acquired three years ago from the Red Sox as part of a package for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, missed most of last year with a stress fracture in his right elbow. But he still has a big arm -- 400 strikeouts in 393 Minor League innings -- and the Rangers are eager to see if he can stay healthy.
Also in camp but not on the Major League side is pitcher Doug Mathis. Though he has not pitched in the big leagues since 2010 while with the Rangers, he is still hoping for one more shot. He spent the past three seasons in Triple-A with five different organizations, an odyssey that has taken him to Sacramento, Fresno, Pawtucket, New Orleans and Indianapolis. Now he is trying to hook back up with the Rangers.
"I love this organization," Mathis said, "I always wanted to come back here."
He will have to work his way out of the Minor League clubhouse, but that's just down the hallway. It's been done before. This is Spring Training, the Rangers are looking for pitching and the search starts Sunday. Winter bird-watching is over.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.